Ways to Help Your Neighbors Experiencing Homelessness
It can be really overwhelming to see folks in your community experiencing homelessness. The reality of homelessness can be hard to come to terms with, especially when, culturally, it feels like the overarching message from our national, state, and local leadership is that if you just work hard enough, you won’t have to suffer that kind of hardship. While the solution to ending homelessness is mainly the responsibility of the national, state, and local governments at large – our collective body of policymakers meant to represent the needs and best interest of the communities that they represent – there are still very impactful efforts that can be done on an individual level to contribute and get involved in putting an end to homelessness!
When an organization receives a donation, it makes a crucial impact, no matter the amount. Not only does it help fund the upkeep and deliverance of service programming to those experiencing homelessness, but it can also contribute to establishing community investment into this issue. Luckily, in the age of technology, it is pretty convenient and accessible to donate to an organization of your choosing from the comfort of your own home. Most organizations have a very visible donation button on their websites, with the options to choose the amount and if it’s a one-time or recurring donation. Some agency websites will provide multiple donation options or specifications of donation. An example of this can be seen on Good Neighbor Settlement House’s website, a direct service organization located in Brownsville, Texas, where you can either donate or buy an item off their Amazon wish list. Likewise, some organizations have an option to indicate that your employer will match the amount of your donation, doubling your impact, as can be seen in THN’s donation page.
When it comes to volunteering, there are many different activities you can participate in that all contribute towards the community investment needed to help end homelessness. One way to volunteer is with a group. This is a great way to build connections with local organizations and fellow volunteers, or even serve as a more comfortable way to introduce yourself to volunteering in general or specifically towards homelessness. Direct service organizations tend to use volunteer groups for organizational and service needs that require a physical action that will contribute to the organization’s day-to-day functioning. Activities can range from large scale construction events,to helping clean and organize a storage room, to helping pass out food or other goods if serving somewhere like a small local soup kitchen. The other main way to volunteer is on your own, individually. Typically, individual volunteers contribute to both direct and indirect service organizations to help build capacity through activities like coordinating services or bringing another skillset to the organization. Some other examples of volunteer opportunities that are not as well known outside of the homeless response world are volunteering in your local Point In Time (PIT) Count and/or Housing Inventory Count (HIC) outreach opportunity and participating in your Local Homeless Coalition. More information on what these opportunities/organizations are, their benefit, and how to get involved have been posted as previous blog post topics on THN’s website!
To find out about other opportunities available in your area, some good places to look are city resources, your region’s CoC lead agency website, or HUD’s website that provides more details to CoCs and their persons of contact to find specific organizations in your area that you would be interested in volunteering for, as well as following organizations who serve the community, both directly and indirectly, towards the goal of ending homelessness on social media channels to be notified of potential volunteer opportunities that they would promote.
Education & Advocacy
Another way to contribute to ending homelessness in your community is to participate in advocating for individuals experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is both a local and national crisis and is impacted by both local, state, and federal legislation. Since colonial times, homelessness or “vagrancy” has been largely addressed by criminalizing homelessness and the symptoms that contribute to it or perpetuate from it. While putting laws in place to criminalize might affect the visibility of homelessness, it has not shown to have any positive impact in decreasing the rate of households experiencing homelessness in communities across America. In reality, it causes a negative impact on both those experiencing homelessness and the communities enacting these harmful policies, which is supported in the article “Punishing Homelessness” by Sara K. Rankin posted in the New Criminal Law Review. Becoming more educated on the history of homelessness in America and the varying strategies of addressing it throughout the centuries and staying up to date on current legislation affecting folks experiencing homelessness is a great way to start gaining the knowledge to advocate for effective legislation towards ending homelessness. As a starting point, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance – lead agency in the Dallas City & County, Irving County Continuum of Care/homeless response system – provides great introduction videos under the “Community Engagement – Understanding Homelessness” tab of their website (can also be found at this link: https://www.mdhadallas.org/educational-video-and-audio/). The topics of the videos include: Continuums of Care, History of Homelessness, Coordinated Access System, and How Data Helps to End Homelessness. Another resource is a previous THN blog post titled “A History of Homelessness in the United States”.
One way to implement advocacy as an individual is to call and/or write to your local representatives. Many local and statewide organizations lead group advocacy efforts towards local, state, and even national legislators that anyone could join! These group efforts can include speaking with legislators or their team directly to leave more of an impact on the message that you want to advocate for folks experiencing homelessness. These opportunities can usually be found on any Continuum of Care lead agency or Local Homeless Coalition website under a tab typically labeled something like “Take Action” or “Get Involved.” A great example of this can be found on The Way Home Continuum of Care – Houston, Pasadena/Harris, Fort Bend homeless response system’s lead agency website.
Challenging Conversations and Challenging Your Own Mindset
Lastly, sharing what you’ve learned and experienced with those in your social and inner circles can ultimately contribute towards ending homelessness. Taking the time to become aware of the biases that both infiltrate and radiate out of our social institutions (healthcare, education, criminal justice, etc.) that then become represented in outdated legislation is the first step towards helping make ineffective policies change. Even as simple as being aware of the images or associated behaviors that come when you see an individual who seems to be experiencing homelessness just on the side of the road while you are going about your day can be the start to changing perspectives. Lastly, when the situation warrants it, a final point to challenge yourself and others is to think through what it means when something is considered a community issue. If so, then what role should our government play in that? Really, what is the role of the government, in general, if not to effectively ensure the health and safety of its residents through taxpayer funds? This is just the start of many discussion points to challenge yourself to determine how possible ending homelessness really is. When the time is taken to understand the factors that allow homelessness to exist, then the solutions can be found ever present – it is up to all of us to set them into motion.
*Use the statewide graphic to determine your Continuum of Care homeless response region. Then, find your region’s lead agency website below to find more local partner agencies in your area and the ways you can assist them:
- San Antonio – Bexar County – https://sarahomeless.org/
- Austin-Travis County – https://www.austinecho.org/leading-system-change/continuum-of-care/
- Dallas City & County, Irving County – https://www.mdhadallas.org/continuum-of-care/
- Fort Worth, Arlington/Tarrant County – https://ahomewithhope.org/coc/
- El Paso City & County – http://www.epchomeless.org/coc-competition-information/
- Waco/McLennan County – http://www.heartoftexashomeless.org/about-continuum-of-care/
- TX Balance of State (215 small/rural counties throughout the state of Texas) – www.thn.org
- Amarillo County – https://comdev.amarillo.gov/services/homeless/continuum-of-care/overview-of-continuum-of-care
- Wichita Falls & etc – https://faithmissionwf.org/partner-agencies-and-organizations/
- Houston, Pasadena/Harris, Fort Bend – https://www.homelesshouston.org/thewayhome
- Bryan, College Station/Brazos Valley –https://www.brazosvalleyhomeless.org/copy-of-contact